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Town of Tonawanda: Huntley will not become another Bethlehem eyesore

State and local leaders vowed Wednesday to find a new clean energy purpose for the shuttered Huntley Power Plant on River Road in the Town of Tonawanda.

"We are determined not to allow Huntley to become, like Bethlehem Steel in Lackawanna, sitting vacant and decaying for decades, to become an eyesore on the Tonawanda waterfront," Supervisor Joseph Emminger said.

He said the town is looking for a national interest to create a large-scale renewable energy project in Tonawanda, such as solar energy generating plant.

Emminger said he's been meeting with plant owner NRG Energy for the past 15 months and the company has agreed to allow the town to issue an "expression of interest," which is designed attract interest from potential developers or energy concerns.

"The EOI is the town's road map for exploring the potential redevelopment of the former CR Huntley Generation Station here in the town. We are proactively reaching out to explore options for this facility," Emminger said.

Senior Director of Communications and NRG spokesman David Gaier said that NRG, as the property owner, is also developing its own marketing plan and will continue to issue its own requests for proposals from developers in the near future, adding that the two marketing efforts will work simultaneously.

Gaier said both NRG and the Town of Tonawanda share the goal of returning the property to beneficial use.

"We cannot predict what the eventual use will be, but we believe the site could be redeveloped and adapted in a variety of ways, renewable energy being just one," said Gaier in a statement.

Emminger said the town will issue the EOI to national energy companies, real estate companies, developers and energy trade publications.

Town of Tonawanda Community Development Coordinator Timothy Callan said the Huntley site would work well for a clean, renewable energy company or natural gas. The plant also has immediate access to the I-290, main railroad lines and a water treatment facility.

"You have so much community opposition when you want to build new power plants and you have to put in high tension power lines, but this site already has this giant switchyard and a National Grid substation," noted Callan.

A boat speeds past the vacant Huntley Power Plant. (Mark Mulville/News file photo)

Emminger said the town is looking at the Huntley site to become a national model for the transition of a former fossil fuel site to renewable energy.

NRG shut down the coal-to-energy plant in March 2016. It had been paying $6 million in annual payments in lieu of taxes to the town, the school district and Erie County, and it employed 79 people. At the height of operations, the plant employed as many as 500 people. It opened in 1916, said Phil Wilcox, the western division business representative for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

Wilcox said redevelopment offers hope for a new career with different skill sets to local residents, as well a chance to expand a thriving industrial corridor by providing power and energy independence.

State Assemblyman Robin Schimminger, D-Tonawanda, said the right project could be a win for the town, the energy grid and state taxpayers.

Republican state Sen. Christopher Jacobs praised the community groups and residents, such as those involved in Tonawanda Tomorrow, as an example of "unprecedented collaboration."

He said he and Schimminger worked together to extend the time on the Huntley Mitigation Fund to offset the loss of taxes and to give those entities hit hard by the loss of tax revenues a little more time to stabilize their finances while they work on finding a reuse of the site and a company that is a "true partner in energy."

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